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Bible Commentaries
Philippians 1

Orchard's Catholic Commentary on Holy ScriptureOrchard's Catholic Commentary

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Verse 1


Authenticity and Canonicity— The evidence for these is so strong that it does not appear worth while to draw out the proofs at any length. Already St Polycarp, early in the 2nd cent., mentions in his epistle to the Philippians that St Paul wrote them letters, ch 3, probably grouping with the Philippian epistle those to the neighbouring church of Thessalonica, (so Moffatt, 174). And it is fairly obvious that ch 2 sect. 1 of his epistle is drawing on Philippians 3:21; Philippians 2:10, and ch 9 sect. 2 on Philippians 2:16 (Gat 2:2 is not so likely) and most clearly of all ch 12 sect. 3 on Philippians 3:18. In the Martyrdom of Polycarp (ch 1 sect. 2), written probably soon after the middle of the 2nd cent., there is a reference to Philippians 2:4. A little earlier than this Marcion accepted it, and about, a.d. 200 the Muratorian Fragment also names it among St Paul’s epistles. Irenaeus (post a.d. 150: PG 7, 1026; 1158), Tertullian (2nd-3rd cent.: PL 2, 826; 863), Clement of Alexandria (do., PG 8, 312; 408; 557) all quote the epistle as Paul’s. There has been practically no variation in the Catholic tradition. Text and commentary should make it clear that no attention need be paid to the not very plausible attempts to prove the epistle a composite work.

Philippi— Philip II of Macedon ( 359-336 b.c.) founded (or more strictly, re-founded) Philippi in 356 b.c., naming it after himself; it had formerly been called Krenides (’little fountains’), from the many springs in the mountains to the N. of it. It became part of eastern Macedonia, very near Thrace, and on the edge of a great plain which stretches inland to the N. and NW. It had casyaccess across Mt Pangaeum to the fine barbour of Neapolis, Acts 16:11, and the gold mines in the neighbourhood were of enormous value to Philip, furnishing him with the sinews of war and diplomacy. Rome conquered Macedon in 168 b.c.; but there was a great development in the position in 42 b.c., when Antony and Octavian (later Augustus) defeated Brutus and Cassius, and founded a Roman colony there, the Colonia Iulia Augusta Philippensium, in honour of the victory. The word Iulia signifies the triumph of the cause of Julius Caesar. Eleven years later Augustus strengthened the city with a second foundation. The city thus acquired the Ius Italicum, with the right of proprietorship according to Roman law, and exemption from poll-tax and landtax; it would have its own duumviri (supreme magistrates), the ’praetors’ of Acts 16:20, Acts 16:35-39 Cicero ( De Leg. Agr. 2:34) speaks with amusement of such claims to be called praetors; and we may note the touch of pride also in ’us Romans’, Acts 16:21.

Christian Beginnings at Philippi— The story may be said to begin at Acts 16:1, when St Paul chooses Timothy to accompany him, for the Apostle associates Timothy with himself in the opening address of the epistle, as one already well known to the Philippians, and proposes to send him to them, Philippians 2:19-24, for his own further information about them, adding at the same time a warm commendation of one who was doubtless his most beloved disciple. But Silas was his chief helper at this time, Acts 15:40; Acts 16:19, Acts 16:25, Acts 16:29. After having visited the churches already evangelized, they were directed by the Holy Ghost and the vision of a Macedonian into Macedonia, sailed to Neapolis and thence proceeded to Philippi, Acts 16:12. From the fact that there is no mention of a synagogue but only of a place of prayer, 16:13, we may infer that Jews were not numerous there, nor indeed should we expect them to be so in a Roman colony. Still, as usual, they attended the Jewish meeting-place, evidently with some fruit, and Lydia, a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, a proselyte, Acts 16:14, was baptized with her household, and they took up their abode with her, 16:13-15. But St Paul’s exorcism of the girl with a divining spirit caused her masters to lose their profit from her, and they dragged Paul and Silas before the magistrates, who beat and cast them into prison, whence a miracle caused the chief gaoler to take them into his house and tend them, so that in the end he and his household were baptized, 16:33. It is gratuitous in such cases as those of Lydia and the gaoler to suppose that the baptizing stopped short at the babies: it is against the texts, and supposes a prejudice at variance with St Paul’s teaching of new life in Christ. The magistrates came to realize their own injustice, and were content to release the prisoners; but St Paul protested that they were Roman citizens, and bade the magistrates come themselves and do so. Hearing that they were Roman citizens, the magistrates accordingly came in some trepidation and excused themselves, for they might have been brought into serious trouble; and they asked Paul and Silas to leave the city, which they did, 16:40.

The fact that St Luke ceases to write in the first person from the time that St Paul’s party crosses over to Macedonia, Acts 16:10, to the time when they had just left Philippi on their way to Jerusalem towards the end of the third missionary journey, Acts 20:5, makes if fairly clear that he was left behind there to organize and develop the local church. From Phil itself we gather that the Apostle had planted and Luke had watered with much success, and that ’the beloved physician’, Colossians 4:14, had infused into them some of his own love and care for Paul.

The Epistle— The Pauline epistles divide into definite groups with marked similarities in each group, though each epistle also has its own characteristic features. 1-2 Thess obviously belong to each other and stand

apart. Gal and Rom deal with the same fundamental theme of justification by faith, the former as an intensely practical question, the latter a more dogmatic exposition to a non-Pauline church. 2 Cor has something of the fire of Gal and of the highly personal character of 1 Cor. In the same way the epistles of the captivity (Eph Col Phil Phm) are usually shorter, and more Christocentric. Eph and Col are especially similar, the former more concerned with Christ in the Church and the latter with Christ in himself. Phil has the finest passage of all upon the person of Christ, and something of the delicate charity of which Phm is full. The Pastoral Epistles obviously have a character all their own; Heb alone stands out as the address of a rabbi trained at the feet of Gamaliel to the church which would understand best such a manner of exegesis.

Thus we are led naturally to envisage the epistles of the captivity as a group by themselves, in which Phil takes its place: a group which we accordingly suppose to have been written about the same time, and under the same circumstances. All of them show St Paul a prisoner, Ephesians 3:1; Ephesians 4:1; Ephesians 6:20; Colossians 4:3, Colossians 4:10; Phm 9, 23; Philippians 1:7, Philippians 1:13, Philippians 1:14, Philippians 1:17. The unanimous witness of tradition points to Rome as the place of his imprisonment, and this is confirmed with especial force in the case of Phil, because of the mention of the praetorian guard in 1:13; the soldiers would naturally relieve each other in the custody of Paul. See e.g. Vincent’s note on the passage, 51-52, confirming Lightfoot’s view. The mention of Caesar’s household in Philippians 4:22 is another strong argument.

The date of the epistles would thus fall in the year of the first Roman captivity, c a.d. 59-61; from the second captivity there was to be no deliverance; contrast Philippians 1:25-26 with 2 Timothy 4:6-8 The main reason why Paul wrote Phil seems to have been the outburst of gratitude and affection at their renewed alms and their solicitude for his welfare (see especially Philippians 4:10-20), in which we can hardly be wrong in seeing the hand and heart of St Luke.

Hence there seems to be no single strong dogmatic or moral purpose underlying the epistle. Incidentally, however, two doctrines are touched upon in a manner that deserves special attention, though a detailed explanation of the texts is left to the commentary.

Doctrine— The passage on the divinity of Christ, 2:5-11, the most striking treatment of the subject in the Pauline epistles, first deserves attention. It should be noticed that St Paul has no intention of teaching his readers anything new, but presupposes the doctrine as already known, in order to draw from it a lesson of humility. In the same way in Romans 9:5 the emphatic statement of the same truth is merely to show that he is fully aware of the privileges of the Jews, their supreme privilege being that God himself took flesh as one of them. Similarly in 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 the Apostle presupposes the Real Presence as already believed, in order to draw from it the lesson of greater reverence in the celebration of the Eucharist. Humility is to lead to greater harmony, especially among the women, 4:2-3, who held a better position in Macedonia than elsewhere, a fact illustrated to some extent by Lydia, Acts 16:14-15, 40, with whom St Luke probably took up his abode.

The subject of justification is treated fully elsewhere, but some light is thrown upon it in this epistle. Justness (or righteousness) is not merely the favour of God, but comes from God, 3:9, being therefore something in the soul itself, springing from faith, which itself is a gift of God, not being the reward of merit strictly so called, 1:29. This justness means unity with Christ in his passion and death, so that from being crucified with him we partake also in the newness of his risen life, 3:10-11, 20-21, a theme expounded with fuller emphasis in the other epistles of the captivity, Ephesians 2:1-10; Ephesians 3:14-19; Ephesians 4:15-16, Ephesians 4:22-23; Colossians 2:6-13; Colossians 3:3-11. The Christians are to ’work out your salvation with fear and trembling’, Philippians 2:12, a strong expression for awe and reverence, not to be taken too literally, as we see from Psalms 2:11; Ephesians 6:5-8; 2 Corinthians 7:15. It is not to hinder the joy to which he exhorts them in 3:1; 4:4.

Verses 2-30

I 1-2 Greeting— St Paul, after his gracious manner, associates Timothy with himself in the greeting, since he was well known to the Philippians and had worked among them; he may well have talked over the epistle with Timothy, but the latter is not really a joint author. The epistle is much too personal to be anything but exclusively Paul’s own. In the opening greeting of 1 Cor even Sosthenes finds a place. ’Christ’ (Anointed, Messias) gradually came to be used as a proper name, but as yet might either precede or follow ’Jesus’. ’saints’, holy as members of the Church, and as possessed personally of sanctifying grace, which Paul usually presupposes in his Christians in general; cf. Eph 2 etc. ’bishops’, as yet equivalent, it would seem, to presbyters’: compare ’presbyters’ (DV ’ancients’) in Acts 20:17 with ’bishops’ in Acts 20:28; and so elsewhere. The churches were still ruled by colleges of priests, visited at intervals by the Apostles, or by delegates with episcopal powers, such as Timothy and Titus. The college of diocesan bishops was to succeed the college of Apostles, but was not to be appointed by the latter at once.

2. Paul’s fairly frequent custom of putting Christ in this way on an equality with God the Father is one sign of his belief in Christ’s divinity, though of course not so explicit as 2:5-11.

3-8 Thanksgiving— 5-7. ’communication’ or ’fellowship’, probably alluding to their alms and sympathy; cf. 4:10-18. 8. ’bowels’, where we should say ’heart’. But in Holy Scripture the latter word has a more intellectual implication.

9-11 Intercession— 10. ’approve the better things’, the more perfect way; similarly in Romans 2:18.11. ’the fruit of justice’ or righteousness which cometh through Jesus Christ, the whole supernatural state etc.

12-14 The Furtherance of the Gospel— 13. ’so that my bonds’, what I have said and done while in bonds, ’have become manifest in Christ’, through his power and grace working in me, ’throughout the whole praetorian guard’, the soldiers of which would relieve each other in guarding me, ’and to everybody else besides’, the many visitors coming to see me. 14. ’the greater number of the brethren in the Lord’, in Christ’s Church and in his grace, ’confident by reason of my bonds’, what I have said and done in bonds.

15-20 Though with Various Motives— There are jealousies at work, perhaps among some disciples of St Peter (cf.1 Corinthians 1:11-12; 1 Corinthians 3:3-4) or among some Jews or Judaizers (cf. 3:2-9); but the whole tone of the letter forbids us to suppose that St Paul was seriously alarmed at the Judaizing, as he was in the case of the Galatians.

17. ’thinking to embitter my bondage’.

18. ’by all means, whether for motives false or true’. Evidently there was no danger of grave errors.

19. Quoting Job 13:16 (LXX). ’the Spirit of Jesus’, as in Romans 8:9; cf.John 15:26. The Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father and the Son as one.

21-26 The Apostle’s Own Mind— 21. Cf.Galatians 2:20. This unity with Christ is both individual and corporate, through his Mystical Body.

22. ’fruitful labour’, implied again in 24. 23. ’a desire to set forth’: the Greek word is both a nautical and military term, to ’weigh anchor’ or ’strike camp’. It cannot mean ’to be dissolved’, as in Vg. 25. ’And this I know confidently, that I shall remain, and remain close beside you all, unto your progress and joy in the faith’. 26. ’that you may have abundant ground in me for boasting in Christ Jesus’, owing to my fruitful labour; cf. 22, 24. ’Boasting’ is a favourite term of St Paul’s, but it must be ’in the Lord’ (1 Corinthians 1:31; 2 Corinthians 10:17; cf.Jeremiah 9:23-24), all glory being ascribed to God for what he has accomplished in or through oneself. The Magnificat is a supreme example of this spirit.

27-30 His Care for the Philippians— 27. ’let your conduct’. ’one spirit . . . one mind’: St Paul was afraid of dissensions among them; cf. 2:2-4; 4:2-3.

28. ’adversaries’, such as the Apostle’s own, 30, whether pagans, as at Philippi itself, Acts 16:19-34, or Jews, Phil 3. In itself such conduct was a sufficient token of predition to those acting in bad faith and malice; but Paul himself longed eagerly to convert both Jew (cf.Romans 9:1-5) and Gentile, cf.Romans 1:13-16.29. An important statement that faith itself is not the reward of merit strictly so called. 30. ’and now hear to be mine’ still.

Bibliographical Information
Orchard, Bernard, "Commentary on Philippians 1". Orchard's Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/boc/philippians-1.html. 1951.
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